Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson announced today via University email the "without cause separation" of the University and the school's athletic department from Athletic Director Mike Thomas.
Thomas was entering his fifth year as head of the athletic department after his hiring from the University of Cincinnati in 2011. Highlights of Thomas's tenure included a massive renovation of the State Farm Center, a smaller renovation of Memorial Stadium, and a rise to national prominence in several winter and spring sports.
Thomas is being fired in large part because of the allegations levied against the Illini football and women's basketball teams by student-athletes. Those allegations of mistreatment led to an extensive report done by the University and law firm Franczek Radelet. The findings from those investigations can be accessed here.
Thomas was also fired in part due to his hiring of Tim Beckman and Matt Bollant, the two head coaches implicated in the allegations by students. Bollant was found mostly innocent of any wrongdoing, but Beckman was fired by the athletic department in August for his mistreatment of student-athletes.
Wilson was brief in her analysis of the firing, stating that a change needed to be made. She said that Thomas was not found at fault for specific violations in the investigation, but that she still felt that the University had to move on from him.
The interim athletic director will be Paul Kowalczyk. Here is the entire Wilson release:
Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:
I am announcing today that the campus is making a change in leadership at the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics (DIA). Director of Athletics Mike Thomas has done a good job of leading DIA through recent challenges, but we have determined it is best to exercise the "without cause" separation clause in his contract. I have asked Senior Associate Athletic Director Paul Kowalczyk to serve as interim director, and he has agreed.
Today, we are releasing the final Franczek Radelet P.C. reports into allegations related to sports medicine and scholarship management in our football program and women’s basketball programs. There were no findings of misconduct by the director of athletics and no violations of policies or standards by him in this review. But, I believe that in order to move forward and put the focus of the athletics program back on the success of student-athletes, a change in leadership is needed. These reports can be found at: http://go.illinois.edu/
DIA has achieved much under Mike’s leadership, including significant milestones in fundraising and steady improvements in the academic performance of our student-athletes. I am grateful to Mike for the work he has done at Illinois.
Decisions such as these are always difficult, but we all remain focused on the best interests of our student-athletes, and this decision allows everyone to move forward.
Barbara J. Wilson
We'll continue to cover the investigation, Mike Thomas's firing, and the search for a new athletic director as this situation develops.
UPDATE (9:52 AM): Thomas will be paid a $2.5 million buyout, which will be due to him in the next 60 days.
UPDATE (11:45 AM): Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson announces in official press conference: "We won't make any decisions about the coach until the season is over. I think Coach Cubit is doing a great job."